Xan, Second Rotation, 5099
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Chronicle of Ulak the Drifter

Annotated by Shahrazad Keret

Xan, Second Rotation, 5099

Before I begin my reminiscence of the visions I experienced while possessed by the spirit of Miguel Guerra, I must make note of two events that went unwritten on my previous entry.

The first is what occurred immediately after I fell unconscious. My nurses have told me that Lord Mortis had both me and Anibal spirited to the Obsidian Cathedral's peak as soon as he heard of what had transpired. Though the Archmage was almost certain that our bodies were intact, he wanted to observe us for any signs of soul infection1 following our contact with Camazotz and the Lords of Xibalbá.

Thus, we have remained under the attentive watch of both nurses and priests, who have tended to our every physical and spiritual need. Nonetheless, I find it worrying that we are also being carefully monitored by a couple of Lord Mortis' own android guards. I do not believe they are here to protect us, but to keep us from scurrying away from Lord Mortis' sight.

Secondly, after I regained consciousness, Lord Mortis himself handed me my Great Book of Records so that I may transcribe my experiences. He did, however, insist that I rest before writing down the knowledge acquired from Miguel Guerra; since I will be Lord Mortis' guest for at least another day, I conceded to his demands.2

I now sit in the private chamber Lord Mortis has procured me, ready to continue my work as Chronicler. This entry of my Chronicle is a brief summary of the visions I saw through the eyes of Miguel Guerra. However, though said visions were as vivid as if I had experienced them myself, I must warn the reader that, of all the ways a ghost can convey knowledge, bodily possession may be the most violating and displeasing of all. Please reconsider before subjecting yourself to this manner of communion with the dead.

To say that experiencing the life of an outlaw like Miguel Guerra is shocking would be an understatement. Though low on the Black Nebula's hierarchy, Guerra was an accomplished smuggler: he was, without a doubt, a master of stealth, a skilled liar, and an expert at making himself unnoticed by even the most zealous of authorities. Seeing the Universe through his eyes was, thus, both exciting and disturbing, for men like Guerra do not hesitate to commit heinous actions to get their way.

Such were the actions that led Guerra to his tribulations on Amvat's surface and, ultimately, to his death and damnation: while smuggling V-Bliss3 through the buffer zone between the Immortal Empire and the Solar Dominion, Guerra was attacked by members of the Zahn Society,4 cyborgs against whom his cloaking technology was all but useless. With his ship's engines crippled, he was pulled by Amvat's gravity and crash-landed on the planet.

It must be said that, for a ship built for stealth and speed instead of combat, Guerra's vessel fared better than expected: it did not disintegrate on contact with the planet's atmosphere and managed to keep most of its shielding, though it lost its engines, half its hull and its entire cargo bay.

Miguel Guerra, on the other hand, fared far worse. Flung against the ship's hard metal walls like a ragdoll, his body suffered a brutal set of injuries, including a shattered femur, ruptured eardrums and a splintered rib, the latter piercing his left lung and eventually leading to his demise. In retrospective, it is almost miraculous that he managed to survive for as long as he did, though his final days were anything but tranquil.

After an agonized awakening, Miguel Guerra crawled through his wrecked ship, the fear of death fueling his drive to move forward. Dragging his broken form through the burning ash and scorched metal, he sought one thing, and one thing alone: to survive.

What little food and medical supplies he managed to scrounge from the vessel's corpse, he hoarded and rationed, desperately trying to stave off pain and starvation. Despite lacking the equipment or knowledge to treat his tortuous injuries, he vied to prevent infection and, with enough painkillers, managed to soothe the agony.

However, after three days of coughing up blood, Miguel Guerra came to the dreadful realization that he would not last long without professional medical care. All things considered, only two paths laid ahead: he could sit and wait, stay still until food and water ran out, until famine and infection delivered him to the doors of Xibalbá… or take action, set up a distress beacon… and pray that someone out there heard it. But to set up a beacon meant venturing outside, and to venture outside meant facing the unknown.

The first attempt at setting up a distress beacon went disastrously.

The planet's atmosphere, though breathable, was overshadowed by the lethality of the environment: no sooner had he opened the ship's main hatch, Miguel Guerra was struck down, blinded by a seething light from the heavens. His skin blistered and cracked almost instantly, painful sores forming along the burnt area, bubbling and bursting and melting his very flesh. Drowning in this new torment, Guerra crawled back into the ship, leaving behind a trail of tears and blood and pus.

One full day was spent in the deepest recesses of the ship, one full day of trying to heal his wounds, of sobbing and moaning as his sight slowly, excruciatingly returned to him. Miguel Guerra had never been a truly religious man, but that night, with his body beaten and burnt into an open sore, he prayed. He prayed to heal, to be free of his pain, to be liberated from the hellish world on which he had landed, but his prayers fell on deaf ears. Whatever gods heard his pleas, they had turned their backs on him.

Nighttime came, and proved to be as deadly as daylight: in a matter of minutes, the land was covered by a mantle of cold worthy of the void of space. Guerra, still reeling from his wounds, was forced to remain in the bowels of his ship. Here, he was protected from the extreme conditions outside by what remained of the vessel's life support, but left alone with an even deadlier foe: his own mind.

Despair set in as he realized that he could not venture outside without being incinerated or frozen. This world, this land… was a hellhole, a place where hope came to die. Trapped, broken and forgotten, stranded on a hellhole of a world, what fate could await him… but oblivion?

Seven more days and nights went by, their passage marked by the creaks of metal expanding and contracting with the changes in temperature. Food began to dwindle, as did Miguel Guerra's strength.

But this was nothing compared to what went on in the smuggler's head. As the days came and went, he began suffering the ravages of loneliness, of abandonment. In his dreams he could see the suns' blighting light, the scourge from the heavens. He could feel his flesh melting off, his bones calcifying and fossilizing under the duress of the elements. He dreamt of his name being forgotten, of his very life being but a murmur unheard by even the gods. Upon waking from these dreams, covered in sweat and tears, his heart was consumed by despair at the realization that he was still stranded on a desolate planet, away from anyone who would care for his plight.

Seven days and nights marched on, seven days and nights of drifting in and out of fear and hopelessness. The cocktail of anaesthetics that kept his pain away also gave him clarity of mind, and in this clarity Miguel Guerra found the silence around him excruciating. He drowned in it, screaming and wailing just to hear something other than the wind, just to keep himself from going insane. In truth, it was as if Guerra had been confined to his own personal hell, an empty expanse of yellowish dust and blazing light, void of all and any company but himself.

After another two days, overwhelmed by loneliness, fearing the madness that laid ahead, Guerra's desire to survive went into overdrive. Something had to be done, and quickly.

The path ahead was clear. He would set up the beacon or die trying. Anything was better than dying alone on that blighted rock, maddened by lonesomeness and forgotten by the Universe. He would use whatever means he could, even if it meant perishing in the inferno outside.

Guerra's despair did not impede his judgement. Though nearing his breaking point, he carefully observed the patterns in temperature, which led him to believe that there must be a middle point, a moment during which temperature and sunlight were not high or low enough to kill him. Hooked up on nearly every anesthetic available, he rumaged around the ship, tearing, scrounging, hurriedly looking for anything he could use to repair and amplify the vessel's beacons.

At last, he stepped outside with his tools and, to his surprise, discovered that his guess had been correct. Though the twilight's air was still hot, dry and dusty, the suns were far in the horizon, off to scorch another hemisphere with their hellish light. At least, Guerra thought, he would not be cooked alive.

Stepping outside was almost like a blessing, and Guerra took in the suffocating air like a drowning man. He did not stop, however; time was of the essence, for by the smuggler's own calculations he had little more than an hour to set up the beacon. After that brief window, the cold would cover the land once more, and the earth once scoured by heat would become a frozen grave. Slowed down by his wounds, he only accomplished his mission after three twilights and two dawns, but it mattered not: this was his way out, his only chance to survive. He would not surrender, no matter how long it took before he saw victory.

It was during this time that Miguel Guerra was finally able to observe his surroundings: without the suns' deadly light, the vast expanse of cracked rock, loose earth and dust extended on every direction as far as the eye could see, its flat, dead surface scoured by winds that projected dust towards the heavens. By all appereances, this truly was a dead, empty world, a forgotten hellhole unknown to the very Universe in which it drifted.

With the beacon set and transmitting, Miguel Guerra began harboring some hope that he would be rescued. For a couple of nights, his sleep became silent, dreamless and peaceful, a true refuge from the horrors outside. In his waking hours, Guerra turned to making inventories, speaking outloud to keep himself sane. At last, it seemed the broken smuggler may find a way out.

This hope, however, was quickly dashed when a new, deadly force of nature arose in the already hostile environment: colossal dust storms began scourging the land, their sheer might rocking Guerra's ship and obscuring the suns above. For the first time since the crash-landing, the smuggler was able to stare outside in the daylight: in awe, he witnessed how the great shifting mass of grayish-yellow particles was swept and pushed and elevated towards the skies by titanic air currents, the horizon all but snuffed out beneath a cowl of dust. The spectacle, however, was not without its drawbacks: with such great storms ravaging the land, how would his beacon's signal reach anyone?

The storms raged day and night, roaring for so long that Miguel Guerra began losing track of time. When the dust finally settled and Guerra stepped out at the cover of dawn, his beacon had almost been torn from the ship, forcing another round of repairs that nearly ended with the smuggler being fried by the morning suns.

Over the few next days, more storms arose, but they were tame enough not to require Guerra to perform more repairs. They did, however, bring a new set of discoveries with them.

Two days into the new round of dust storms, Miguel Guerra began hearing noises coming from outside the ship. At first, he worried that the dust storm had finally begun eroding the vessel's metal outer cover, but this noise… was different.

Though somewhat muted by the howling winds, the sound grew in intensity, like something skittering across the roof, like sharp claws being dragged across the hull hard surface, coming ever closer to the ship's bridge, where Guerra had taken shelter. It stopped for a minute, then began again, this time closer to the tiny viewport that Guerra kept shut to prevent the suns from roasting him during the day.

There it was again!

This was no storm, he now knew. This was something different, something alive!

Upon opening the minuscule viewport and looking outside through the protective tinted glass, the smuggler saw nothing but the raging dust storm, the suns hidden away and the horizon all but nonexistent. For a moment, he dared hope that he had simply imagined it, that isolation and fatigue had played his mind.

Nevertheless, as he stared harder into the maelstrom, he saw them. There, obscured by dust and wind, stood a hunched, creeping figure, its features blurred save for a long tail and eight angled, oddly jointed limbs.

Startled at seeing another living thing out on that deadly waste of a planet, Miguel Guerra failed to take a good look at the creature. It quickly scampered away… only to be followed by another two of its kind. What manner of being they were, Miguel Guerra could not tell5 but one thing became clear: he was not as alone as he thought himself to be.6

For the next couple of nights, the smuggler slept curled up next to the thickest portion of the hull, his dreams plagued by the images of multi-legged beasts and fanged, dripping jaws. In his condition, could he stand against creatures out to tear him limb from limb? Compared to being eaten alive, dying in solitude was starting to look like a more merciful option.

The next week was a particularly difficult endeavor. With the painkillers having run out a few days prior, Miguel Guerra began experiencing the full extent of his injuries, and agony returned to claim the smuggler's body.

The shattered bones on his leg had healed badly, which left the limb swollen and virtually useless. His rib had begun to puncture his left lung, and the strain of repairing the beacon had resulted in internal bleeding. Eating and drinking quickly became painful tasks, and even breathing felt to him like running uphill. Every single patch of skin burnt with fever, his mortal form slowly succumbing to shock.

To subdue the agony, Guerra began huffing some of the solvents used to clean the ship's nav computer. Although this was an effective way of numbing the pain, the drawbacks soon presented themselves in the form of drowsiness and hallucinations. Miguel Guerra's mind became his own private prison, a cruel dungeon where his worst fears manifested and festered, growing and overwhelming his sanity until he tore at his own face, until he became unable to even articulate, until all he could do was scream.

Miguel Guerra was, effectively, a dead man walking.

As his wounds quickly sapped what little strength he had left, as the solvents consumed his mind and focus, Miguel Guerra turned into a cursed man, a being whose every waking moment was spent experiencing visions of death and destruction. His mind was full of vague, vaporous images of his past crimes, of the lives he had ended and the punishments he endured whenever he had displeased the Black Nebula. The voices of his superiors, their faces hidden by shadow, chastised him for his foolishness, for his failure to deliver his cargo. He often woke up in a terrified frenzy, only to be plunged back into his nightmares by the hallucinogenic effects of the chemicals he inhaled.

Slowly, his grip on reality became so loose that he no longer could distinguish between dream and awakening, between the hellish world he had crash-landed on and the horrors of his own mind. However, his addled, murky brain still managed to capture and process the events that marked the last few days of his life.

After almost four weeks of tribulations, Miguel Guerra woke up from one of his drug-induced nightmares, ripped from his numbness by a great noise of metal being scraped against metal. In this rare moment of clarity, he realized that the noise was not the product of his madness and, despite his deplorable state, garnered enough curiosity to investigate, however taxing it may be on his broken body. Weakly, he crawled up to the viewport that was his only contact with the outside world and, fearing that one of the creatures he had seen during the storm had decided to tear him from the ship's wreckage and make a meal out of him, opened it.

To his surprise, he was staring at a small multitude of upright silhouettes, their forms made murky by the dust stuck to the viewport's surface. With great, almost greedy haste, they carried away pieces of junk, metal plates and shielding that had undoubtedly once belonged to the derelict ship.

Through the viewport's filth, the smuggler barely distinguished the shape of robes and hoods, of sacks and bladed weapons carried by the planet's natives. Whatever these beings were, they were intelligent enough to craft clothing and weapons, and maybe even recognize alien technology for what it was.

After this brief vision, Guerra was once again pulled into his hellish trance, and slept a turbulent slumber that was not interrupted for nearly a full day.

Miguel Guerra was rescued by the Imperial Navy nearly one month after he crash-landed on Amvat, a planet whose name he never knew. By that time, his health and mind had deteriorated to the point he babbled incoherently about the evil desert that had tormented him. He expired shortly afterwards, and his remains were cremated and interred below the Obsidian Cathedral on Idhai.

As for what became of him in the afterlife, the answer is dreadfully clear: Miguel Guerra's soul is now the plaything of the Bat God Camazotz and of his cruel masters, the Twelve Lords of Xibalbá. It goes without saying that he simply went from one hell to another.

However, despite this unfortunate conclusion and even worse epilogue, Miguel Guerra has proven to be of invaluable help for my quest. Whatever information he could not tell in life, he has more than shown to me in death.

I would like to go over the three most important aspects of this new information.

1. Amvat's climatological conditions are far more extreme than I could have guessed. A few seconds in the suns' light is enough to cause second-degree burns on human skin, while the night turns the planet into a frozen, deadly waste. The dust storms that scour the planet are also terrible in their own right, mighty enough to block the suns' lethal rays. Amvat may be by far the cruelest desert I have ever seen.

2. Despite the environment's hostility, Amvat harbors life. The creatures that Guerra saw during the dust storm indicate that life is not only present on the planet, but perfectly suited to survive their world's harsh conditions. Though I doubt I will have such an easy time surviving on Amvat, I am happy to learn that it is indeed possible for life to flourish.

3. Lastly, the rumors are true: Amvat does possess at least one civilization. Even if Miguel Guerra was unable to truly gaze upon them, his testimony confirms that I shall find at least some semblance of a culture to observe and document during my journey.

I will not lie: my excitement is immense. Even if Miguel Guerra did not see much of Amvat, his observations have demonstrated that my quest is not some suicidal mission. There is, in fact, life and civilization on Amvat. At last, I have found a challenge for my skills as Drifter and Chronicler, a world worth exploring despite the dangers it holds.

Archmage Mortis too, should be elated by these news. If the lost civilization of Tevak is on Amvat, it is possible that I may stumble upon its ruins, and the answers to Lord Mortis' questions, as I journey through the planet.

Tomorrow I will inform Lord Mortis of my experiences, and request that he honor his part of the deal as soon as possible. Gods willing, I shall soon set foot on Amvat, that mysterious, hostile world that has become such a fixation on my mind.

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